Monday, November 19, 2012

GTOG RECAP: Brett Keisel and James Harrison are already trying to get a running start at Brandon Weeden; Steelers lose to Ravens 13-10

By GTOG Staff

Subject to the possible premise-killing caveat that last night was the best game the Steelers' defense has played in over a year, let's explore the following premise: the Steelers' defense could have and should have won the game.  Joe Flacco was ripe for a strip-sack all night.  He was just a tall, over-confident, unibrowed statue standing in the pocket, unable to complete a pass downfield, just begging to have the ball swiped from him.  Unfortunately, it's not 2009.

The Good Ol' Days
The most glaringly obvious area of decline for the Steelers this year is wearing number 92.  Until his late "sack" of Joe Flacco (the result of great coverage and a good decision by Flacco to not risk an incomplete pass to stop the clock), the only indication that James Harrison was even playing was because Chris Collinsworth wouldn't stop talking about him.  Collinsworth was either watching a game tape from 2009 or hasn't watched a Steeler game since 2009, but what we saw from Harrison was an enormous amount of nothing.  Ditto for Brett "Key" Keisel, who committed yet another terrible late game offsides penalty (he did the same against Oakland).  If he doesn't go offsides, Baltimore punts coming out of the 2-minute warning.  But he did go offsides, Baltimore ran another play, Harrison got a sack that he's still over-celebrating, and the Steelers got the ball back with no timeouts, 65 seconds on the clock, and a quarterback throwing like the 40mph machine at the batting cages.  Players tend to try to cheat the snap count when they know they can't get to the QB otherwise.
Actual game photo of James Harrison from last night
While we're nitpicking the end of the 4th quarter, let's not let Tomlin's clock management off the hook. With the Ravens facing 3rd-and-7 with 2:09 left and the clock running, Tomlin decided to use his final timeout at 2:04.  Had he not called timeout, the clock hits the 2-minute warning and the Ravens have a tough decision: 1) run the ball and force the Steelers to use their final timeout, or 2) throw for the first down but risk an incomplete pass that would stop the clock and leave the Steelers with a timeout remaining.  By calling the timeout at 2:04, Tomlin allowed the Ravens to run a pass play without the downside of stopping the clock on an incomplete pass -- the clock had to stop anyway at the 2-minute warning, so of course they were going to throw for the first down.  It turned out to be somewhat moot because the Ravens chose Option 3: wait for Key to jump offsides to burn even more time.

The standard is the standard.
Of course, the Steelers' defense didn't cost the Steelers the game.  In fact, it's the only reason this was a game in the first place, yielding only 3 points (the other 10 were special teams and a gift from Mike Wallace).  It was the unit's best performance in a very long time, and maybe the best game Swaggin' U has played in ... ever?  We leave this game with unexpected confidence in the defense, and feeling thoroughly unimpressed with Baltimore.

So let's talk about Byron Leftwich after the jump...

Pro Bowl grimace.

Where was Charlie Batch last night? We understand that Byron Leftwich is a warrior who graduated from the Ben Roethlisberger School of Histrionic Leadership, but he's also a man who fell untouched onto the grass, injured his ribs, and threw fielding practice for the rest of the game. And he hasn't won a start since 2006.  Charlie Batch is fragile, but he wins games. With word coming out this afternoon that Leftwich has broken ribs and is out for the game against Cleveland, it's time to invest in Charlie Batch.  Because if history has proven anything, it's that investing with Charlie Batch is a great decision.

- During halftime the Steelers celebrated their 80 year anniversary by honoring team alumni.  They should have kept Troy Polamalu out there just in case.

- There were a few moments in the 4th quarter of the game that really crystallized what needs to happen this offseason: 1) Rashard Mendenhall failing to realize he needed to get out of bounds with less than two minutes to go in the game and no timeouts; 2) James Harrison celebrating his first sack - nay, his first discernible play - of the game, apparently not realizing an incomplete pass would have actually been far better under the circumstances; and 3) Mike Wallace making no effort to help his QB by coming back to the ball to scoop up that short-armed 2nd and 11 pass.

All of these guys should be gone this spring.

  • Mendenhall because Dwyer is a better runner, plain and simple (we would have run him twice when the Steelers had 3rd and short from the 5, down 6 in the 4th quarter).
  • Harrison because he makes a fortune, isn't good anymore, and scares women and children. He's entered the 2011-Alexi-Kovalev phase of his career where he gets tired in the middle of the play, sits down, and hopes for the best.
  • Mike Wallace because it would be really exhausting having to talk after every game about all the plays our $10 million man left on the field. 

On the positive side of things...

- Keenan Lewis is a Pro Bowl player. Maybe not this year, but it's coming.

 - We've called out the front 7 all season for what we diagnosed as Perpetual Inability To Stop Anyone Disorder (PITSAD). Last night, save for the inability to get sacks when the secondary was covering better than ever, they looked like the old Steelers, holding Baltimore to 47 yards on 23 carries.

- The Ravens are 8-2, but they aren't scaring anyone and probably won't maintain their current spot as the #2 seed.  The Patriots are in their typical November run-up-the-score mode, so 13-3 is hardly out of the question for them.  Peyton Manning is doing the same thing that Phil Rivers is doing every week except the exact opposite: he's getting better.  The Ravens, on the other hand, have at least 4 lose-able games (PIT, DEN, NYG, CIN), and Joe Flacco is worse on the road than Amanda Bynes.

- From the Steelers' perspective, this loss is devastating in the division race but likely won't have much impact on the wild-card race.  As we discussed on our podcast live from Ben's hospital room, 9-7 should be good enough to get at least the final wild-card spot, and maybe even the #5 seed.  Right now, the Steelers and Colts are both 6-4 and the Bengals are hanging around at 5-5.  Everyone else is horrible.  If all the Steelers do over the last 6 games is beat the Browns twice and win at home against Cincy, 9-7 with the tiebreaker over the Bengals should suffice.

And assuming 9-7 would suffice, and assuming Big Ben comes back, there's no question which division leader we'd like to see in Round 1.

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